Last Saturday, a group of five people who are used to establishing "firsts" established one they especially enjoyed -- the first time all of them were in the same place at the same time.Collectively, broadcasters Emma Tiedemann, Melanie Newman, Jill Gearin, Kirsten Karbach and Maura Sheridan have made an enormous
Last Saturday, a group of five people who are used to establishing "firsts" established one they especially enjoyed -- the first time all of them were in the same place at the same time.
Collectively, broadcasters Emma Tiedemann, Melanie Newman, Jill Gearin, Kirsten Karbach and Maura Sheridan have made an enormous impact on Minor League Baseball. But they've really only just begun.
Tiedemann, who started as Class A Lexington's broadcaster in 2018 and was named the South Atlantic League Media Relations Director of the Year in 2019, organized the get-together, the main event of which was a ticketed cocktail hour and panel discussion at the Legends' Whitaker Bank Ballpark on March 7, the eve of International Women's Day. Proceeds from the night went to the Association for Women in Sports Media.
In the leadup to the event, Newman -- formerly of Double-A Mobile, Double-A Frisco and Class A Advanced Salem -- landed a big league broadcasting job with the Baltimore Orioles. Sheridan recently accepted a position as the lead broadcaster for Class A Advanced Lynchburg after serving as assistant broadcasting coordinator in the Fayetteville Woodpeckers' inaugural season. Gearin is poised to enter her second season with Class A Advanced Visalia. Karbach, who became the first woman handling full-time broadcasting duties for a Minor League team with Class A Advanced Clearwater in 2014, is headed into her second year with Double-A Reading.
The five broadcasters spoke to MiLB.com about coming together and sharing their experiences with an audience.
Tiedemann: Our president and CEO [Andy Shea] and I were talking about all the different females [broadcasting in the Minors]. We started talking about how I hadn't met about half of them. A few minutes later, he was like, "Why not get everybody together here? We'll fly them in and have a panel discussion before the season."
I had been familiar with the Association for Women in Sports Media from their amazing events across the country, really, and I took it to Andy. We saw it as the best way to give back to an organization that supports females in clubhouses and locker rooms throughout the sports world.
Newman: [Emma] and I have had a relationship for over two years. I think she sent a text, "We're kind of looking at getting together for a panel." ... It was like getting a text from a friend asking if you want to come over for pizza. It's just, "Yes!" There's no doubt or hesitation. ... Of course, when I got the Baltimore job, I told them about dates where I had preexisting commitments. March 7 was non-negotiable. And they agreed -- they've been very outspoken and supportive [of] growing the sport for females.
Sheridan: The five of us have always kind of been in contact with each other ever since I entered the industry. They reached out immediately when I got the Woodpeckers job last year, and I met Melanie, of course, with both of us in the Carolina League. Sometimes we text each other, any time we need to vent or just wanted to talk about the job, but I had never met the other three in person.
Gearin: [Texts and social media hellos] happened from when I was first announced [as the voice of the Rawhide]. Kirsten and Emma reached out to me, and we didn't talk a whole lot but stayed connected. When Maura was announced, and Suzie [Cool] and Melanie in the Carolina League [in 2019] as the first all-female booth, I messaged them.
The broadcasters mingled with the crowd during a pre-panel cocktail hour. (Carsen Bryant/Lexington Legends)
Karbach: Even though we were all aware of each other and had communicated in the past, we hadn't been in the same room. On Saturday, just having a conversation about our experiences, being able to share some of the things that we've been through, hearing how we all got into the places we got to … to be able to commiserate, to share stories, that was so helpful.
Tiedemann: People started arriving [at 5 p.m.] and the first hour was a cocktail hour. There was a good variety of students, Legends fans, some horse racing broadcasters … all ages, all backgrounds. There were fans of International Women's Day and people who just love seeing women have success in male-dominated professions.
Newman: We'd have people come up and engage every so often [during the cocktail hour]. They all knew Emma, but didn't know the rest of us. It was huge for us to have that time to be able to talk to each other. What I could really appreciate was that Maura was the No. 2 last year and I got to hear her thoughts on ascending to the No. 1 role. I'd just made that leap last year. [ESPN producer] Ashley [Colley], the president of the Association for Women in Sports Media, flew in from New York and talked to us a little bit. That was somebody else where we'd had a digital relationship and were able to build a personal bond.
Tiedemann: We kept the cocktail hour rolling and went straight into the panel. Andy spoke. There was a video showing headlines we made and why this is a bigger deal than maybe some people realized. We kind of spoke on that -- the significance of the five of us.
I did 20-30 minutes of moderating, with questions for each woman about her background and how their experiences shaped them individually. We opened it up to questions from the audience.
Karbach: It was cool being able to talk to the room. There were about 50, 60 people there, and to have them be able to hear stories and ask questions and interact ... it was really important just in that it created awareness and gave some support for the women who are trying to do this.
For one, it's important just for people to be able to see, "Hey, there are women play-by-play broadcasters in Minor League Baseball." It's important to realize that. We're rare, but we do exist. One thing we talked about in the panel: when we were growing up, there wasn't anybody in this role. For myself and two of the others, we didn't really grow up thinking we were going to be play-by-play broadcasters, because there wasn't an example set for us. There wasn't that precedent. There wasn't anybody to look up to in the field. It's important to see that it's doable.
Sheridan: It was a little scary to all of a sudden be talking to people all about myself. I'm used to talking about players and coaches and storylines and things that are game-related, so to just be talking all about me … it felt almost wrong.
The five women bonded before, during and after the event. (Carsen Bryant/Lexington Legends)
Gearin: We got to talk about the way our experiences have changed. We were talking about having issues getting into the clubhouse, and Kirsten didn't even [go in] until two years ago. That's crazy to me. Maura and I, last year we didn't know what the heck we were getting into.
Karbach: I wasn't allowed in the clubhouse for the vast majority of my career. It wasn't a choice. It wasn't something that I was permitted to do in my job. I told [the panel and audience] that even last year, it was something I tried to avoid just because I am aware of the reactions you get. I would go into our clubhouse, but I would avoid going into the visiting clubhouse because of the reception you get. ... I try to avoid it, but sometimes it's not avoidable. It was interesting to hear about [Gearin and Sheridan] kind of being thrown into that. They had to do it. It's part of the job, but there's not that precedent set, so it does make some people uncomfortable.
Sheridan: We were asked three separate questions about how people respond to us -- first, how players respond to us, then how coaches and managers respond to us, then how fans respond to us. The answer to all was that it's mostly positives, but there are some really bad apples that dampen the entire experience.
But by the time the third question about that got asked, we all kind of realized that the answer is really that it doesn't matter. If it bothers them, they can get out of sports, because we're not going anywhere. We mostly all came to that same conclusion, but it does affect us and can be hard especially when you're entering your first season. But that's not going to stop us from doing what we're doing.
Tiedemann organized the event and moderated the panel. (Carsen Bryant/Lexington Legends)
Newman: We all touched on our debuts and I talked about my debut with Salem last year. And since I'd had my first game with Baltimore, I talked about that as well. They reminded me, "Just because you mess up, it doesn't mean you've ruined anything for all women everywhere." Every male also messes up. You have to take that pressure off yourself. If somebody happens to be like, "She messed up! This is why women can't do sports!" ... that's not your responsibility or your fault. ... Joe Buck messes up and people aren't like, "This is why men can't do this!" That's not an opinion for us to care about. That's on them for missing out on a trend that's definitely growing.
Tiedemann: There was a junior in high school who said she doesn't want to go exactly into sports broadcasting, but the event made her more comfortable that she could go into a roomful of men, that she was more comfortable knowing [about us and our experiences].
Sheridan: We all sat there a little misty-eyed. That was really nice to hear -- it really drove home that we're not doing this no reason. That was the point of the whole night. I mean, selfishly, it was also for us to meet, but to be able to inspire other women and girls…
Gearin: All of us got emotional just hearing that. That's what we want from this -- for young girls to look at something they want to do and know you can do this even if there's not that much representation of people who look like you doing it now. You can do it anyway.
Attendees had the opportunity to ask the panelists questions. (Carsen Bryant/Lexington Legends)
Newman: There were certain moments [during the panel] when other women in the room were speaking about their experience, and [I was] just relating to that and finally having this feeling of being heard. Not that I hadn't been heard previously, but our job really can make us feel isolated and that's nobody's fault. The players, the coaches, the managers, our coworkers, they're all great and supportive. But at the end of a day, the boys might go off for dinner and drinks or whatever and you're still trying to keep a balance of a professional line of respect so that nobody on the outside is going to have a blurred perspective just because you're a female with a bunch of men.
Karbach: After, people were coming up to talk more individually. We had several people tell us they really enjoyed it or that it was an inspiring event, so it was really cool to hear that.
Sheridan: A lot of people after came up and said they're thankful for what we're doing in our industry even if they're not doing what we're doing. The sports world is male-dominated no matter what part of it you're in. That was really nice, to be connected with other women in sports and feel like we're making a difference outside of play-by-play too.
Tiedemann: We were able to spend a lot of time together. Aside from the panel, the five of us were really open with each other. ... It was extremely valuable to talk about where we've all been and to share our different experiences. I always viewed myself as a broadcaster who happens to be female. It's not a big deal to me, but you don't realize how unique your experience is just based on gender. The five of us were able to discuss that and be very open with each other, to talk about how we approach certain things, and how we could make things better for the females following us.
Newman: It was midnight or 1 a.m. and we've been talking since we got together at 2, but we all agreed and identified that it was a liberating feeling, a weight off of our shoulders, that a.) you're not crazy for doing this and b.) you're not the only one. ... My stress highs have gone down a little bit. My next broadcast is Thursday, and I'm much more sure of myself. I'd also had dinner with Suzyn Waldman right before then, and the whole thing was a massive reminder why I'm here and why I got hired.
Karbach: It was just so inspiring just to be around them. It feels isolating sometimes, me having been in a position where I was the only one. Having been in the industry eight years, I've been encouraged not only to see more and more women getting into it and absolutely killing it in the positions they're in, but to hear what they've gone through. They're all incredibly strong to go through the things they've gone through, and they're all still persisting.
Gearin: It was the most empowering hour of my life. All of us were saying that we go through what we go through, but we're still here. We still love baseball and want to do this.
Sheridan: Mostly, I just felt really inspired after. There are going to be more and more women in the play-by-play field. When Kirsten started, she was the only one, and Melanie and Emma came, and Jill and I came from the same class. And we're both aware of a couple of young women who are trying to come up too, and we're trying to help them. ... Hopefully, soon there will be too many of us to fit in a photo or on a panel.
Josh Jackson is an editor for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB.